By Judit Price, MS, CCM, CPRW, IJCTC, CDFI
Congratulations!! You have the perfect job. Your talents and organization needs are in sync and you know you can add significant value. But along the way you sense something is wrong. Since the ramp up period is very short and expectations very high there is little time to worry about getting familiar with the cultural norms of the organization, so why worry about it? That could be a mistake.
We have written about the changes in the hiring process with today’s far greater emphasis on teamwork, “fitting in”, and how employees embrace and reflect the culture of the organization. This is a serious concern among many organizations. Of course, the interview process is supposed to weed out future malcontents. But it is an imperfect process. Managers make best guess projections and often hire good people who simply cannot adjust to the organization.
All organizations have cultural norms and expectations. These are generally driven from the top down and reflect the personalities, philosophies and practices of top management. We are all familiar with top down edicts that indicate a belief or set of beliefs that are reflected in the customs, norms, expectations and values among employees. We have all experienced the ‘new employee handbook’, where policies are laid out in a manner that reflect the real world of the employee’s workday.
Nevertheless, when an employee joins a new firm, the norms that develop from the culture, i.e. the work styles that are a common outgrowth of that culture, have to be absorbed and integrated into the new employee’s work habits. Unless this happens, the new employee’s future can be in jeopardy.
For example, some organizations value a direct approach where the employee communicates with a “here is what I plan to do”, factors in constructive information and moves ahead. A contrasting approach, or style, is more collegial. The employee, either formally or informally, presents a problem and a potential solution and looks for common vision and support before moving forward.
Both approaches can be effective. The problem arises when the cultural norm or work style is in one direction and the new employee approaches it from the other. If you are a hard charger who tends to ignore input, that may be fine in an organization that values that approach, being concerned only with the end result. If, on the other hand, the process itself is highly valued to ensure organization support, a different approach may be needed. The difference is important and the result could be catastrophic for the new employee who wants to make that positive first impression.
The point is we often find ourselves in situations with supervisors, peers, or employees in which the case is solid, but the audience isn’t buying it. It may have nothing to do with the substance of the issue, but have everything to do with the style in which it is being presented or carried out.
Sensing the awkwardness, there may be a temptation to simply swallow the problem through fear of making a bad situation worse. Or, even worse, it is entirely human to mischaracterize the listeners as somehow unable to accept the brilliant insights being offered. That’s a style issue.
We often talk about a win-win situation. Win-win implies successful negotiation to enable others to find common ground, a “comfort zone”. All too often the substance of an issue is not the concern. Rather, the style in which resolution is approached, the method of communication, and the degree and quality of interaction to generate support, can be critical. In other words, it may not be what you say, but how you say it that makes the difference between support and withdrawal.
In the past, I have discussed personal work styles, those preferences or tendencies that deal with the way people acquire information, make decisions and use their energy, their inspiration, and their motivation. It is a fact of organization life that individual work styles will clash with organization style norms from time-to-time. For new employees, it is especially hazardous, because the employee has not had enough time to establish their worth, but has had the time to create dissonance.
So, what should the new employee do?
First, master the organizations style. Study the organization as best you can to understand the norms and taboos. Start building strong peer relationships from day one, listen carefully to the cues, and over-communicate with your boss. It is important to be visible and solicit feedback, and observe how others interact within the organization. Assumptions about staff deficiencies without understanding the cultural norms could be fatal.
However, the name of the game is building success. In addition, as the employees gain confidence and familiarity, if not comfort, with style expectations, they can begin to move ahead more aggressively, if it is warranted. It is important to take the time to understand the new organization and the people with whom we interact. That understanding helps you find ways to cope with the new culture, minimize stress, and enable you to add value with organization support.